With the exception of some inclement weather, the semester seems to be coming together for me. For the most part, I’ve memorized my new schedule, purchased the majority of my textbooks and coursepacks and have begun looking forward to my approaching graduation. Despite all my worrying, things are falling into place and, like a locomotive starting slow, the term is gradually picking up steam as the gears shrug off the lethargy and sleepiness of a two-week vacation. Two weeks into the new term and everything’s back to normal.
Well almost everything. You see, just days into new semester, the city of Ann Arbor rather gracelessly took a prized parking spot from the residents of Elm Street, converting it – seemingly overnight – into a handicapped spot. Although the city was tight-lipped about who requested the new spot, it didn’t take us long to figure out that the elderly homeowner across the street (yes, there are indeed permanent residents in the student ghetto) had rather cunningly won himself an exclusive parking spot.
What had for months been the subject of so much coveting and competition had with one stroke been taken out of our reach. Not that the gentleman was for want of parking – indeed, his driveway was typically less crowded with cars than any other on the street. And from all appearances, the man owned (and rented-out) the house next door, providing him with additional parking when needed. What’s more, the man was ostensibly able-bodied – at least enough to regularly walk his dog around the neighborhood.
And yet for all my frustration and griping, I cringe at questioning his putative disability. After all, who am I to second-guess the doctor who judged him needing of a handicap permit? Moreover, I’m a little embarrassed over the entire episode; if one of my grandparents thought it necessary to request a handicapped street parking spot, would I want some snide college kid sneering over the petition? Some say disability rights are the new civil rights. If that’s the case, I haven’t the stomach or the mind to play the modern-day Orval Faubus, obstructing the rights of the disabled as that notorious character in history sought to obstruct the implementation of Brown v. Board of Education.
No, the real culprit here figures to be the city of Ann Arbor. Installing the handicapped parking signs without the slightest notice to any of the residents of Elm Street, the city once again bullied student compliance without even the most half-assed of attempts at weighing resident opinion. No leaflets. No letters. Nothing. My roommate even received a ticket for parking in a spot that hadn’t been marked as handicapped when he parked his car there the previous evening.
Are the interests of students so inconsequential to this city as to preclude even the most lukewarm attention from city government? Sure, the city seems to take notice of us, as pimps invariably take notice of their whores and swindlers carefully take notice of those they swindle. Much like its esteemed company, the city takes notice of us merely in its desire to make a buck.
Addressing the concerns of disabled Ann Arbor residents is undoubtedly a priority. As a potentially vulnerable and underrepresented group, disabled persons deserve the city’s resources and attention. But I daresay another potentially vulnerable and underrepresented group enters the equation in the situation presented above. Students in this city are constantly preyed upon by the avarice of landlord and shopkeeper (particularly bookstore owners). And while the bevy of privileged students capable of owning cars (like my roommates and I) or paying high rents might obscure their view, numerous less-privileged students also call this city home.
Has the city become so calloused by the financial incentives of business and high-property value taxpayers as to forget about those other residents? For all the progressive labels the city adorns itself with, it still hasn’t gotten around to simple progressive issues like rent control or investigating price-fixing and the lack of competition among bookstores. But then again, those concerns don’t particularly afflict the white-collar homeowners who glowingly pat themselves on the back for living in such a progressive, liberal town like Ann Arbor.
What this city truly needs is a slap in the face. That or an Eliot Spitzer to really shake things up. Will someone be kind enough to give the city notice before the changes are undertaken?
Rafi Martina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.